Counting Carbon from Space

Artist's rendering of NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, one of five new NASA Earth science missions set to launch in 2014, and one of three managed by JPL. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s rendering of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, one of five new NASA Earth science missions set to launch in 2014, and one of three managed by JPL.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) has returned its first science data after reaching its final operating orbit.

From its position high above Earth’s clouds, OCO-2 will study carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Data from OCO-2 will help climate scientists understand how quickly CO2 levels in the atmosphere will increase in the future.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is a natural component of Earth’s carbon cycle, but CO2 is also the primary human-produced greenhouse gas that is causing our planet’s average global temperature to increase.

Artist's rendering of NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, one of five new NASA Earth science missions set to launch in 2014, and one of three managed by JPL. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s rendering of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, one of five new NASA Earth science missions set to launch in 2014, and one of three managed by JPL.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

OCO-2 will provide valuable information for climate scientists who are building a clearer picture of how the Earth’s carbon cycle works – including how CO2 is both added to and removed from the atmosphere. The data is also useful for astrobiologists who are trying to understand the conditions that make Earth habitable for life as we know it.

Earth is our only example of an inhabited planet, and studying how Earth is able to support life can help astrobiologists understand the potential for life on other planets.


Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2): NASA’s New Carbon Counter. Credit: NASA JPL (YouTube)

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